English Premiership

Reds miss out on Europe

2011-05-22 20:40
Stewart Downing (AFP)
Birmingham - Liverpool will be without European football for the first time in 11 years following a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa on the final day of the Premier League season on Sunday.

Kenny Dalglish's side had to record a result that was better than Tottenham's to finish above the London side in fifth place, which was the only way they could qualify for the Europa League.

But an Aston Villa winner from Stewart Downing plus news of a Tottenham victory over Birmingham meant they had to settle for sixth place.

It was a disappointing end to the campaign but Liverpool fans will still believe they have a bright future in Anfield legend Dalglish's second spell in charge.

Raul Meireles fired in Liverpool's first shot and when that was deflected behind Lucas Levia's effort from the corner was cleared off the line by Ashley Young.

Villa retaliated and Jamie Carragher, the Liverpool captain, was in the way of a shot from Stiliyan Petrov before needing treatment on a head wound sustained in an earlier challenge with James Collins.

He eventually returned with a red headband but not until Villa had been forced to make a change themselves, with Fabian Delph replaced by Marc Albrighton just before the half hour mark.

Downing fired Villa ahead in the 33rd minute when Albrighton's cross to the back post was missed by the Liverpool defence and two home players as well.

Downing was perfectly positioned to chest the ball down and he beat Pepe Reina at his near post with a shot into the roof of the net.

Martin Skrtel almost levelled but was unable to connect with Fabio Aurelio's free-kick to the far post that had eluded the Villa defence.

The game was Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel's 400th in the Premier League and his 266th in a row, with the USA international also having celebrated the birth of a son and become the first 40-year-old to play for the club.

Friedel pulled off a top-class save to deny Meireles after Luis Suarez had showed superb skills to fool two Villa defenders and pull the ball back for the Portugal international, whose shot was powerful and on target yet somehow clawed away by the goalkeeper as he dived to his left.

Collins might have made it 2-0 soon afterwards when a cross reached him in front of goal but his first-time effort bobbled wide off his shins.

Suarez blasted over from the edge of the box as Liverpool began to realise that it was not going to be their day or, despite an impressive late surge, their season either.

Gabriel Agbonlahor, the Villa substitute, should have made it 2-0 straight after when Darren Bent beat the offside trap and pulled the ball across the goal invitingly but the England international failed to make contact.

Then Petrov saw a fierce drive parried by Reina and the rebound hacked away.

The final whistle was greeted with a huge cheer by the Villa fans, who were determined to celebrate a ninth-place finish - and confirmation of Birmingham's relegation.

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